The most famous Wine Route in France proudly reveals its medieval châteaux, colorful half timbered and Renaissance houses. Cobblestone paths lead to flowery lanes in charming villages. Alsace, France is a land of tradition and wine, offering a very unique and memorable experience for the visitor. This route was established as a tourist route in 1952. It winds through sloping valleys along the foothills of the Vosges Range which is home to traditional gastronomy and travelers along the way are invited to sample the excellent cooking in the region's many farm inns. Meandering through 70 wine growing villages and fortified towns such as Eguisheim, Kaysersberg Ribeauville and Riquewihr this is definitely a unique, "put it on the list" trip. The vintners organize wine and harvest festivals featuring folklore entertainment, processions and wine-tastings from April to October.
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." On my recent trip to the Alsace region at the end of March, the gray clouds and rain were constant companions but I felt privileged to be where a subtle mystical alchemy beneath the earth was taking place. Filling our senses was an exhilarating petrichor and the site of rich colors evenly lit by clouds acting as a natural diffuser. The entire wine route was on the verge of spring transformation yet one could only see rows and rows of thousands of dormant brown stalks and arched vines. Each appeared to have arms spread wide to receive the gifts nature bestows. I was in total awe when I learned that each and every branch along this vast route is pruned by hand. From December through March, there are several pruning systems employed. Two of the training systems I saw used were: Simple and Double Guyot depending on the type of grape and the variety of wine desired. The preferred method seemed to be the Double Guyot method which means that branches are pruned leaving only two n shaped branches with 8 - 12 "eyes" which are tied to horizontal steel wires in order to carry the fruit bearing shoots. There is a true wisdom and art involved with pruning. Done correctly, it will increase light distribution where the ratio of leaves to fruit bunches is maintained. It also serves to provide the control needed for the production of the highest quality of grapes. According to the Wine Doctor, "The vine's vigor is not wasted on superfluous growth."
There are over 1000 wine producers offering tastings and tours. The French word frère comes from the Latin word frater which also means "brother". Walking into the Bott Frères. we immediately felt like family with their warm welcome and hospitality. We shared stories, culinary interests and tasted the many different delicious pairings. Of course, all in the name of in depth research! At the Bott Frères in Alsace, wines are imbued with knowledge acquired over nearly two centuries, an exceptional terroir, high quality grape varieties, and the Ribeauvillé microclimate. Generation after generation carries on the dedication to producing the finest of wines and after meeting several of the family members, it is easy to see why so many recommended this experience to us. Throughout the year, Bott Frères organizes events in harmony with the seasons. At 2:30 every day (except Sunday) visitors can take the tour to experience the magic of its cellars and hear a presentation relating how winemaking has changed over the years.
While I would love to see this famous wine route in the summer and fall, in early April I was able to understand the deep dedication and care that goes into wine growing in this region. I could clearly see the row after row of thousands of stalks and vines left to carry on an important legacy, all tended to by hand. When the grapes burst forth in the fall, they too will all be plucked off their vines by hand... hands strong and weathered but definitely the tools of the artist. As Ernest Hemingway said, “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
If you would like to add this to your itinerary of explorations, flights go into Strasbourg, France. Rent a car right outside the station and take in all the quaint villages along the Wine Route. Cycling or walking tours also provide another interesting way to see these beautiful sites. Untours Travel specializes in trips to this area. Stay with locals and travel at your own pace.